Saturday, May 31, 2014

My Preview of China

From the beginning, I knew I was going to have a different experience in China than my classmates. For them our trip might be a once in a life time opportunity to explore China and all its history. For me it was preview of what my next semester will be like. I will be spending my Fall semester in Shanghai studying at the University of Finance and Economics.

I mainly enrolled in this trip to get an idea of what I was getting myself into. To be honest I was rethinking my decision. The thought of studying half way across the world, in a country I've never been to, where they speak a language I don't know, for four months was terrifying. I was worried if I wouldn't like it. Now that I've returned to the US it makes me laugh that I thought I wouldn't like it. This trip has opened my eyes to all the amazing experiences I have waiting for me this Fall. This trip has left me with so many questions that I can't wait to find the answers to..not to mention the fact that I never got my KFC...

My main list of things I want to do in Shanghai next semester now include:

  • Going to the top of the TV Tower at night
  • Going to the Shanghai Museum and visiting every room 
  • Taking a calligraphy class at the community center
  • Take the fox everywhere
  • Go to People's Square when they're are people
  • Go back to Zhouzhuang to buy more of my new favorite tea
  • And many more...
I can't wait to send you all pictures and happy coconut balls! Thank you all for making this experience truly amazing! 

Where'd the Fox Go..?

It is customary in Chinese culture for visitors to bring a gift with them when they visit different places and people to show ones appreciation of their presence. I thought it would be a nice gesture to bring a gift along with us the whole way to show our appreciation to Rollins for giving us the opportunity to visit this amazing country. This is our Journey to the Middle Kingdom.

"Temple of Heaven"
"Lunch at the Water Villiage"

"Gate at the Temple of Heaven"

"Forbidden City"

"Temple of Heaven"

"Our Boat Tour in the Water Village"

"Need a Seat? In the Forbidden City"

"Throne in the Forbidden City"

"Forbidden City"

"Forbidden City"

"Temple of Heaven"

"The Fox Getting into Trouble"

"The Great Wall of China"

"The Great Wall of China"

"Temple of Heaven"

"Lunch Anyone?"

Before and After

My original perception of China before going on the field study trip was one of a country where there are many big cities and economic power, but with restricted rights for its citizens and visitors. The China I imagined was more like the one in Beijing rather than Shanghai, but through my visit I was able to see that China has both areas of a first and third world country spread throughout the country. Before going I had the fear about the rights as a visitor, but that was clearly not a problem, because China was different that I thought. China’s developed areas vary significantly throughout the country, the farther the west you go the more rural it gets. This idea of China was formed through my studies about China in High School, news, movies and experiences of people who have visited China. The city that totally differed with my idea of China and impressed me the most was Shanghai, because of its modernism and how clean the city was given that millions and millions of people live in it. Shanghai has become one of the premier cities in the world in the last decades. Shanghai is now home to more than 10 million people and keeps growing as well as all major cities in China caused by the modernization of the country. Millions of people have been immigrating to the cities to find jobs. The whole trip was a wonderful experience but as a city I was amazed how developed Shanghai was. 

The Great Experience

I was nervous about going to China. I genuinely didn't know what to expect from the complete strangers I journeyed with, nor from the Chinese people with whom I would interact. On one of the many occasions that I though about the trip prior to leaving I remember thinking that I would stick out like a sore thumb. First of all, I am a little bigger that the average Chinese Man, and of course I am touring the country. Tourists always standout. Brenna, a classmate on the trip, says its the shorts... I concur. 

Once I arrived in China my fear of standing out was quickly realized and immortalized with a phrase "Too big for China". It seemed that everywhere I went I didn't quite "fit'. I mean my feet literally didn't fit in the allotted space when sitting in the front of the bus, but that's not really what I mean. It seemed that wherever we went we were regarded as tourists, and we never really fit into our surroundings. We were talk at and explained too, but for much of our trip I felt like an outsider. Unless of course we were dining at a restaurant filled to the brim with other tourists. That was creepy. A gigantic restaurant in the middle of Shanghai with only Anglo people sitting, and Chinese people serving. 

This feeling did not persist. I came to realize that I was experiencing culture shock. Things really were just so much different. I found myself pining for more and more of that 'experience'. Dealing with different people in different ways began to be a big part of the trip. Even though I enjoyed the sightseeing and shopping, I found the interactions with our tour guide to be increasingly profound. When he explained the customs about marriage, remarriage, and divorce I found this to be an invigorating experience. These types of interactions are always what's missing from the normal tourist itinerary. 

It wasn't all wide-eyed wonder. I 'experienced' several umbrella jabs from to the neck from tiny Chinese women while walking through the forbidden city. The last one was so deliberate that I momentarily contemplated beating that same women with her open umbrella until either her or the umbrella snapped in half. This may have been the most authentic experience I had while in a city with a population of 10 million people.

One of the best experiences on the trip was the visit to the great wall. It turned out to be extremely challenging. While it was quite a tourist destination it was also a great time to bond with the group, and test the upper physical limits of my sedentary lifestyle. I started out strong up the hill, but quickly realized that at 240lbs. I might actually be too big for The Great Wall. After a bit of encouragement a lot of sucking wind, I eventually made it to the top with the others from my class. It was such a rewarding experience, and I remember getting to the top and feeling so happy to have done such a cool thing with a great group of people. 

That feeling really sums up my entire feeling for the trip. It was great, such an accomplishment. And I am happy that I did it with the group. I look forward to the next challenge that takes me out of the country and out of my comfortable office chair. This whole thing really was a great experience.

History of the Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven has a rich sordid history that has made it what it is today. A charismatic piece of history near the heart of China's Capital.

The Temple of Heaven is a large complex of buildings, gardens, walls and sidewalks covering almost 3sq. kilometers of ground. There is an outer area consisting of many trees and pavers which serve as a gathering point for people who live in the community and street performers. Beyond this common area begins a walk up to the Temple of Prayer for Good Harvests. It is a three gabled structure in which the emperor would pray. It is an impressive structure which is made with only wood and zero nails.

Next there is a long walk down a very wide stone path specially built with a special walk way that allowed the emperor to walk down the middle with his generals on one side and the royal family on the other. At the end of this path which is maybe half a a quarter of a mile long lies the second important prayer location known as the imperial vault of heaven. This area is best known for the circular wall which surrounds it. the interior surface was so smooth that they created a special echo effect which allowed for conversations to be hear across a courtyard. When you visits there today you can stand at a special point in the center and hear either 1, 2 or 3 echoes of clap when standing on one of three special stones.

The third and final major structure in the kingdom of heaven is the Circular Mound Altar. It is a platform raised high above the ground. The emperor would use it to say a final prayer before leaving. The stone in the center was for the emperor only. The Altar would reverberate and redirect the sound upward to strengthen the prayer the to the heavens.

The Temple of Heaven was constructed in the early 1400's and was used by may emperors.

Visit to the Temple of Heaven

When you think about China there are so many images that come to mind. People think of rice fields, bamboo, panda bears, upward curving roofs, and so much more. Now that I have visited,  one of the images that will come to my mind will be of the Temple of Heaven. This is a beautiful place and sacred ground once used as a place of prayer for the emperors of China. Today it is used as a community gathering place, a tourist attraction, and museum.

The Temple of Heaven is a massive complex of old structures and high walls. the first thing you see when you walk up is jade colored tile lining the tops of 15ft. walls. During the Japanese invasion the temple was used as a military base, no doubt chosen for these very walls. As you move through them they seem to be as thick as they are tall.

Beyond the walls there are a great many people performing a great number of activities. There are street performers dancing with long ribbons, a group doing a kind of tai chi and yoga combination. The atmosphere is lively, fun and increasingly crowded. As you move down the sidewalk The Hall of Payer for Good Harvests Suddenly appears in the background, and you pass more groups of singers and dancers as you move closer to it.

This temple along with two other prayer locations make up the primary structures within the temple of heaven. They are quite old, but they have been rebuilt over the years for various reasons. Their beauty and architecture are astounding. But like a lot of things in China it is easy to be impressed by things that are impossibly old.

This is a place that really should be on the list of places to visit when you're in China because hundreds of years later it still draws an enormous amount of people.

Forbidden City

In Beijing, one of the most interesting locations for me was Forbidden City. Located in the center of Beijing, Forbidden City was house to the emperors from the Ming dynasty to the Qing dynasty. What I found fascinating about Forbidden City is that get to understand a lot about Chinese culture. There are many details of how things were constructed or positioned for different purposes. For example, the pathways to the buildings that were divided in three and each door were intended for a specific group of people. Also the use of nine objects used on every significant building and structure, showing the significance of number nine in Chinese culture. Another thing I learned from visiting Forbidden City was how advanced the Chinese were in math and astronomy when Forbidden City was built. Forbidden is impressive and how everything has a purpose including the number of rooms, the shapes of the buildings and walls, etc. I enjoyed Forbidden City far more that I thought I would, because when you understand the reason why everything is where it is it becomes much more interesting